Train Like a Pro?
Well here we
are. March; the end of the base training and pre-competition
periods of our winter training cycle and the beginning of our long,
arduous and hopefully enjoyable and successful, competitive year. This is what
we've been training for all winter; competition, be it against
ourselves, the watch or each other.
Now we have to ask have we trained hard
enough, long enough and to the right intensity to best prepare ourselves for the coming season? We'll soon know once our first events take
place. But is that good enough in this day and age? Should
we be leaving four months of preparation in the wind, rain and cold to chance?
In the good old days, when steak was considered top race fuel, Lucozade
was for sick people and there were only four channels on TV. We used
(had) to wear black shorts, white socks and laced up our cleated shoes before we strapped them to our pedals.
something in the middle of a pencil, and Vitus, Reynolds 531c and Columbus
SLX were the frame materials of choice. Seven gears were enough,
52x42 was the optimum chainset gearing and you had to reach down if you
wanted to friction change a gear.
There's been a massive advance
over the last twenty years in cycling, especially in frame technology,
wheels, equipment and clothing. Try
to find someone racing on a steel frame today, and wheels have gone from
the groundbreaking Mavic Helium to Campag Hyperons and Boras. These days, finding wheels
with round spokes is as good a way as any to pass the time before a race.
The abundance of
shoes, pedal systems and clothing materials (alpaca shorts and wool
jerseys anyone?) have taken us from the backwater dark ages to the cutting
edge of sporting excellence. Previously, materials like titanium,
carbon fibre, kevlar and magnesium were only found on racing cars and
has undoubtedly helped in all areas of our sport, it still surprises
me how some people have no wish to embrace the training tools,
methodologies and technologies we now have at our disposal. Some,
while riding and wearing the latest in cutting edge technology, hold on to
the traditional training methods and principles of a bygone age. Which is fine, but traditional
methods bring traditional results.
Maybe it's time to
consider an alternative training view and take the road less travelled; in
amateur circles at least. Why not train like a pro?
Brave New World
The training tools, technologies and knowledge are here now to help you better prepare for your competitions
in the future.
For the price of a decent set of wheels you can invest in your
development and transform your training
regimen by cutting hours a week from your training programmes through training smarter
In 1988, myself
and Guy Webb bought our first heart rate monitors. Everybody
laughed! In 2004 I bought my first SRM, having used power to train
on my turbo since 2000. People were, shall we say, "politely
indifferent". This year I've bought a second compact SRM for my
sportive Colnago Extreme C. People think I'm just showing off!
It's not cheap but for me it sure is worth it. Having two SRM's for
my bikes has doubled the value of the information I get from them and
gives me vital knowledge of wattages and thresholds for climbing
Using a power
meter, and the imperative analytical software as a companion, it's
possible to measure every input and
output during an interval, a ride, a month, a preparation period or even a whole season.
By measuring key parameters within a ride we can plan our own training
to ensure we're progressing in a controlled, measured, structured and
Stress & Intensity Factor
How intense is our training and
how do we define intensity? Is two hours on the flat as hard as an
hour in the hills? How does it compare to a 10 mile Time Trial?
A well designed plan, that follows the
basic FIT principles of manipulating frequency, intensity and time
will ensure our training has a predictable, measurable benefit.
Progressive overload has to be applied for training adaptation to take
place. It's a simple formula; no overload, no progression. Too
much overload, athlete breakdown. So knowing how hard you are
training and how much overload you are applying is crucial to the success
of your training plan.
Training Peaks (the
analytical software) has a built in automated system for measuring ride
intensity. It's Training Stress
Score (TSS) is a marker created from algorithms within the software that
works in conjunction with our power meter and our known threshold power
and the inputs we created when riding the bike.
Score correlates a value to each workout from a combination of the ride's (IF)
Intensity Factor (power relative to threshold) and the ride's distance (volume).
Using these markers, we can create workouts and training sessions that
return a controlled, predicted, measured and sustainable response from the body.
How it works in practice
As I have the utmost respect for the confidentiality of the people with
whom I work, I
don't pass on names, training figures, information or results that can be
attributable to identifiable riders. So I'm afraid, once again, I have
to use my figures as an indicative benchmark. I know it's all me,
me, me but I'm afraid that's how it has to be.
On the 9th September 2006 I rode the Ronde Picarde and hit TSS & IF figures
of 285 and 0.869. This was a mildly hard event at the end of a long year
and I placed 60th overall and 19th vet. Four weeks later I rode my
last event of the year, the
Giro Lombardia, with similar figures.
I create a
non-scientific indicator of my ride by multiplying the
Training Stress Score by the Intensity Factor. This gives me a
"training load indicator" that allows me to plot my progression.
Lombardy's "training loads" of 228-230 weren't the highest of the year but
they were right where I expected them to be as end of season events. I then
take these training load indicators as a benchmark of my end of season
fitness. My end of season competition fitness rating is 230-ish.
My first official
ride of the new season was on 5th November. A two and a half hour,
65 kilometre recovery ride with the obviously much reduced TSS-IF figures of 141 &
0.754; and a resultant training load of 106. Happy days, less than
half the load of recent rides and I didn't even get out of breath.
As the winter
progresses routes, plans and workouts are created to ensure a controlled,
progressive, sustainable overload that prevents me becoming
run-down, ill, over trained or stale. Three weeks on, one week off
ensure my motivation and focus remain high.
As you'll see from
other areas of this site, I categorize rides, weeks and months using the
RAG methodology; Red, Amber, Green. Red being the hardest, green the
easiest. At the end of each RAG cycle, be it weekly or monthly, is a grey recovery
allows physiological and psychological adaptation to take place.
The chart above
diagrammatically maps my Winter Foundation Training period (a Meso Cycle).
Each week (a Micro Cycle) builds on the efforts of the previous week.
So green week 1 is hard, amber week 2 is harder and red week three is
hardest. A grey, recovery, easy week 4 follows.
Weeks 1 to 4
collectively form November and are considered a Green Period. Weeks 5 to 8
(December) an Amber Period and Weeks 9-12 (January) are the Red
Period. (Week 12 is a grey recovery week)
February and March
sees an eight week Pre-Competition Period, another Meso Cycle, that develops on the foundations
of the the previous work undertaken and adds speed endurance and threshold
power to the equation in a similar fashion.
your training in this way you get to manipulate your body and mind to
perform at a level you expect, not hope. It's easy to cope with hard
training when you know an adaptation week is no more than three weeks
away. It's as important to give your mind a rest as well as your
body. The grey weeks make the pain bearable, the adaptation results
make it enjoyable!
You can see the concept of these
meso cycles, and the training load progression, in the table below.
Planning your training
The training load and overload principles can be seen from actual training
data below. The table begins with the penultimate race of the
sportive season; the Ronde Picarde. I did the Tour of Lombardy in
October but that would mess the recovery bit up! So for the sake of
clarity, I've kept it simple.
Picarde ~ Sept
Recovery ~ Oct
November ~ Flat
December ~ Mix
January ~ Hilly
Sarthe ~ April
Bossis ~ May
Pyreneene ~ June
Recovery ~ July
Pour Paix ~ Aug
Hill Work ~ Aug
Lapabie ~ Sept
Recovery ~ Oct
You can see from
the actual training figures above that Training Stress and Intensity
Factor build each month to give a controlled, progressive, sustainable overload.
The first red line
represents the scores from my final competitions in September 2006. Using
my training methodology, a power meter and Cycling Peaks, I can plan and plot the progression
of my training months in advance. All I have to do is use my power
meter and analysis software to make sure I hit the
training plans for athletes, the first objective of my methodology is to hit
the first red peak in January at a training load higher than that at which
competition took place in the previous September. This ensures we
preparation for the forthcoming year as we know, come January, we've already pushed ourselves as
hard as any early season competition we could reasonably expect. From January
onwards all we have to find is speed!
sees a throttle back on distance but an increase in intensity. As
late February, early March and the season approaches, intensity remains the same
with volume and stress ramping up. Come April, and the early
competition phase, a Training Stress Score, akin to those in italics taken from
Danguillaume, are what we are aiming
May sees a further
push (red period) and June gives us a recovery period before we head in to
the final peak phase of July, August and September. Then it all
starts again! And that's a Macro Cycle; a full season of
competition, for us at least.
Comparing Like with Like
You can also see that
the 100k ride from the green week in February (24/02/07) is much more intense than the
100k orange ride in December (02/12/06). Although they are both 100k rides,
and felt the same in physical tiredness and effort, they give considerably different training loads and stresses. You
can also see that the green "easy" week is now harder than a previous
orange "medium" week. That's progression that is.
We're all aiming
to do the same thing with our training programs. Experience can help
you get to where you think you need to be. But the right tools can
let you know exactly where you are and when you've got there. They
can also stop you going too far and peaking too soon. Progression is
planned and known, not hoped for or assumed.
Through using analysis tools
alongside a power meter you can track and plot each training ride
retrospectively. This retrospective information gives all the detail
needed to allow the application of your knowledge and experience to
help you prepare training plans that will allow your continued, controlled,
sustainable progression. If you didn't see planned progression from
your last ride, you make your next ride harder.
You can see a
graphical representation of this in the chart below.
October are maintenance peaks for the Ricarde
and Lombardy sportives. A and B are the 10 minute power peaks of 246 and 241
watts established during these competitions.
The big drop off
after October can clearly be seen, this was my post-competition recovery
period, or blow-out as it's normally known.
From the lowest trough, we can see there are three peaks in
November, the green, amber and red weeks. You already know my green
ride was a two and a half hour, 65 kilometre recovery ride.
The following two weeks built on that effort until you clearly see
my recovery drop (grey week) to
allow a training adaptation to take place.
The cycle is then
repeated for December, January and February. Three weeks on, one
week off and a steady increase in fitness, endurance and power.
The 10 minute power
peak C, on the 15th February, was 239 watts which proves that the
training plans have got us back to where we were in September. We're
now ready for further progression when the season kicks off in a few weeks
time. I've removed all of the November to February power lines
(red) to make the chart easier to read.
It's okay to prove that our ten
minute power is where it should be. But what about across the whole
training spectrum. Aerobic, anaerobic, tempo, threshold, VO2max,
sprinting, etc, etc. There's no point in having the greatest 10
minute peak power in the peloton if you're going backwards come the
software comes to the rescue. Every pedal stroke of my 2006 season
was recorded on my SRM's and downloaded in to Cycling Peaks. From
that information I can draw up my maximum power outputs across my entire
physiological range in the blink of an eye.
My 2006 maximum
power wattages are shown in the chart above by the dotted line. My
training for the last 28 days is shown by the yellow line and the more
observant of you will note that they're not too far apart.
The analysis tools
allow me to track the peaks and troughs of my training and help identify
exact points and specific threshold power areas that I need to address.
Apart from a 13
watt deficit from peak power to the 6 second threshold, I'm pretty much as
strong now as I was at any point during the whole of 2006. Which
means my power meter and software tools have been a better investment than
say a new pair of wheels or a frame. I know the stuff I've bought,
and the training I've done, has worked. No more guess work!
Because of the
nature of living in an island nine miles by five miles, it's almost
impossible to hit the sustained hour plus wattages until the racing season
If you don't have a power meter, or the software to analyse
your training, there are other methods you can use. To prove that
you're on track, tests can be carried out to validate whether your training
has worked or we still have work to do.
The now infamous
6-minute test gives us all the data we need to measure
It's carried out on an ergometer but you can use a turbo and cycle
computer if that's all you have. It doesn't work on the road so
forget those books that tell you to do "field tests" because the
information back from them is at the very best, questionable.
The test graph below shows a comparison of an athlete's January 2007 winter preparation test and one from their pre-competition March
The January solid
line shows a 13% improvement over the previous test taken, and that's from a time period two
months earlier in the year. This athlete is 13% stronger two months
before the season starts. What I haven't plotted, to keep the graphs
less cluttered, is the fact that this 13% increase was achieved with a
heart rate 8 beats per minute lower. How much confidence do they now have going in
to this season?
For less than the price of a tyre, and an hour
of time, they've confirmed that they're ready to take on all comers.
How good is that?
The beauty of this system, Train, Test,
Analyse, Plan, is you don't just ride around until the early
season and hope your doing well. You know exactly how well you're doing and with time and
experience can predict your peak to within days.
I know I've rattled on a bit in this factsheet but this stuff is
important. It is, quite literally, result-changing stuff. My
mantra is, if you always do what you've always done, you'll always get
what you always got.
I keep banging on about the
tiniest of fractions by which races are won and lost. Sometimes it's
not all down to power, sometimes it's in the head. But when you get
feedback on every ride and pedal stroke, and the figures come back like
those above, then imagine the confidence that brings to an athlete.
You don't just
think or hope you're stronger, you know you're stronger. It doesn't
matter what anyone else has done, you know you've done your best and
improved. If you're chasing personal bests in time trials and you're
10% up on your power output, only an act of God or a bloody big headwind
can mess you up!
I would recommend that you
hold back on that new frame or new set of wheels. Take the plunge
and get a power meter and the software that can help you develop as a
rider and athlete. It ain't cheap and it doesn't make your training
any easier, but it does make it smarter. Look on it as an investment not a cost.
For once we've been a head of
the game. Finally the pro's have caught
up with our Brave New World. This season the Astana. Lotto and
Telekom teams have all signed up to use
Cycling Peaks software to analyse
Also, if you
watched the recent World Cup Track Championships from Manchester you'd have seen
that every Australian and Great Britain cyclist had SRM cranks on their
track bikes. Every pedal stroke between now and Beijing is being
monitored, measured and analysed to help build a picture of what needs to
be done to win an Olympic medal.
Finally to further prove my
point here are my power comparisons from 2004 and 2007. In the past
four years I've gained power right across the board. But just look
at that top end. I've gained almost a 100 watts and can sustain more
power for longer. I'm also four years older and at 47 still keep
progressing. How happy am I?
We may not be able to get the backup, support or rest of a
pro rider but there's nothing to stop us training like one.
Have a powerful, successful and